Tom Thibodeau is arguably the best all-around coach in the NBA, and he’s only in his second year on the job with the Chicago Bulls. His defensive strategy and no-nonsense attitude have helped turn the fortune of Chicago around, and he broke the rookie coaching records for wins with 62 last year.
But as he watched helplessly from the sidelines as reigning MVP Derrick Rose writhed in pain after tearing his ACL Saturday afternoon, he should take the blame for his star’s devastating season-ending injury.
Rose drove down the right side of the lane with 1:22 remaining in regulation and the Bulls nursing a 99-87 lead in Game 1 of their series with the Philadelphia 76ers. After he went up in the air in preparation for a jump stop, he landed awkwardly on his left leg, and sent a desperation pass to the base line before remaining plastered to the court.
The city of Chicago couldn’t breath.
Odds are, neither could Thibodeau, but if that was the case, he didn’t show it. Rose remained on the court until the trainers came and assessed his situation, then was carefully lifted off the court, likely taking Chicago’s championship hopes through the same door.
Injuries are part of the game; they can strike during a key moment in a big ball game, or on a flight of stairs on the way to the bathroom. No one can predict when and where a player will fall and sprain an ankle or catch an elbow, and, like every sport, that’s part of the unpredictability of the game. In Thibodeau’s defense, the game wasn’t completely in hand. Philly had cut a 20-point lead to 12, and they had most of the momentum. Elsewhere, C.J. Watson was only 1-of-4 and Chicago didn’t want to leave anything up to chance. Rose is the MVP for a reason, and Thibodeau also wanted him to “work on closing” after missing 27 games during the regular season with various injuries. Those are all valid reasons-Coaching is a crap shoot sometimes.However, after losing Rose for those 27 games, and the MVP still struggling to find his footing to the point that he could once again single-handedly take over and win games, the smart move was to remove Rose from the game.Chicago went 18-9 when Rose wasn’t in the lineup. They had quality wins over Boston and Atlanta, among other playoff teams, and Watson looked like one of the better backup point guards in the league.Also, the hot hand of Rip Hamilton, struggling to stay in the lineup himself all season, put in 19 points in only seven shots. He found soft spots in the Sixers defense all night, and has long been known for closing games with key shots.
I understand, by my logic, that both Hamilton and Rose should have been on the bench. Each have missed significant time, so why keep either in with a double-digit lead and less than two minutes to play?
By the same token, you could baby players to the point of losing a game, something you can’t afford in the NBA playoffs. Just one win can catapult a team to new heights (see Dallas Mavericks NBA Finals 2011 Game 2), and you can’t take anything for granted.But this is Derrick Rose, the reigning MVP of the league. You knew your title hopes hinged on his health and game. Now, they could face an early exit in Round 1 or the next round against Boston or Atlanta.
To borrow a phrase from Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington, “That’s the way [basketball] go.” No one could have predicted this, even with Rose’s glaring injury history.But Thibodeau should have played the odds with this one, and will have the full six to eight months of Rose’s ACL recovery time to second-guess leaving his star in the game.
Editor’s Note: Chicago lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Philadephia 76er’s. 4-2.